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171 - Figs, Friends, Fathers

More Than Ink / Pastor Jim Catlin & Dorothy Catlin
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November 4, 2023 1:00 pm

171 - Figs, Friends, Fathers

More Than Ink / Pastor Jim Catlin & Dorothy Catlin

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November 4, 2023 1:00 pm

Episode 171 - Figs, Friends, Fathers (4 Nov 2023) by A Production of Main Street Church of Brigham City

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You pick up your Bible and wonder, is there more here than meets the eye?

Is there anything here for me? I mean, it's just words printed on paper, right? Well, it may look like just print on a page, but it's more than ink. Join us for the next half hour as we explore God's Word together, as we learn how to explore it on our own, as we ask God to meet us there in its pages.

Welcome to More Than Ink. So I've been trying to grow a fig tree in my garden for three years, and I can't seem to keep one alive over the winter. Yeah, but you know, we're going to run into a fig tree today in Matthew's Gospel, and instead of keeping it alive, Jesus curses it. He curses it to death. What's the point of that?

What is the point of that? We'll find out today on More Than Ink. Well, good morning and welcome. We're so glad you're with us. This is More Than Ink, and I'm Dorothy.

And I'm Jim. And if you remember, last week we were talking about when Jesus entered the temple on that great day when he came in and was acknowledged as king by the crowds. And then right under the noses of the religious authorities, after he had thrown out the money changers and the people selling animals, the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them. Right there under the noses of the religious authorities.

A very clear statement of his messiahship. Yeah, I know. And it's a funny thing, because right at that section, it says that they become indignant after seeing these wondrous things.

That's what it says. Yeah, they were whopping mad. They saw wonderful things and they were indignant. Isn't that crazy?

Instead of being marveling and being amazed and saying, wow, maybe this is the guy. They're all about how can we get rid of him, because he's rocking our boat. Yep. So feathers are being ruffled as we speak. This is the Passion Week and Jesus is smack dab in the middle of the religious authority establishment at the temple. And there's a lot going on. And the crowds are full of expectation.

Exactly it's just a very big deal. There's a lot of people in town anyway because of Passover, so I mean it's really a big happening thing. So we're a couple days into the Passion Week at this point, and we're going to get into the story where Jesus is teaching as he's coming and going and healing and having conflicts with the Pharisees and here we are. And he's coming into the temple during the daytime and he's going out at night back to Bethany and staying there. Very likely with his dear friends, Lazarus, Mary and Martha. So we're picking up in chapter 21 and verse 18 with this very curious event with the fig tree. Right. So he's coming in from Bethany and just to remind you again, Bethany is about two miles east of Jerusalem.

It's on the other side of the Mount of Olives. So he's walking in and here's what happens when he comes in one day. Okay. Are we ready to read?

Let's do it. So starting in verse 18, in the morning as he was returning to the city, he became hungry and seeing a fig tree by the wayside, he went to it and found nothing on it but only leaves. And he said to it, may no fruit ever come from you again. And the fig tree withered at once. Are we stopping there?

Yeah, let's stop there for a second. This is pretty curious if you don't know a little bit of botany about this particular fig tree. Evidently, this is a kind of fig tree that doesn't have any leaves apart from also having figs on the tree. So like at the end of the season when the figs are gone, the leaves, they come off. So from a distance, you can anticipate figs being there if you can see leaves.

Right. If there's leaves, there's probably figs. So the leaves are a promise of fruit from a distance.

So what does it say? It says that actually straight up it says leaves. It sees leaves. In Mark's Gospel, he talks about the fact that he sees the leaves from a distance.

So that's what he's doing. He's seeing the leaves and anticipating because this is this kind of tree, there should be fruit. But when he gets closer… It's interesting that Matthew tells us he's hungry too.

So you know, every little indicator we get that Jesus was an authentic human being. He was hungry. So he would have had a reason on the service to go and check out the fig tree.

Yeah, yeah. But when he gets there, he finds no fruit. No fruit. The promise of fruit because there's leaves.

Right. All the evidence of fruit. So you know, why a fig tree?

We're going to come to that a little bit later, I imagine. But this is a case where you might want to take your concordance and look up fig tree and see where else it shows up. Get educated on fig trees.

Well, give us a little indicator scripturally. What is the symbology of the fig tree? How is it used?

Where does it occur? What's being painted by the picture of the fig tree? So I'm going to leave that in your court, listeners. You get your concordance and look up the fig tree and see what you discover. Become biblical fig experts.

Well, no, this is the way you learn. Yeah, no, that's okay. Instead of just saying, this is a weird thing Jesus did. It doesn't fit with any of the other miracles. Why would he do this silly thing? Yeah, yeah.

It's hugely significant. So when he comes expecting to find fruit and doesn't find it, he curses it. May no fruit ever come from you again in the fig tree withers. Wow. That's a dramatic sign. In fact, I can't think of any other destructive miracle he does, except for maybe the pigs going into the water and gallowing. That wasn't really his doing. That's what the demons did. But this is the only one I can think of where he curses something, a miracle and something is destroyed.

Just kind of interesting. Except, well, you're right in terms of the destruction, but his demonstration over the powers of the natural world, of course, and calming the storms and calming the wind. But this is the first time where he actually says, you die. Yeah, right. Right. It looks like judgment is what it looks like.

There's theology in that. So anyway, if you pick up the story in 20. Okay.

Okay. So the disciples notice, which you should. When the disciples saw it, they marveled saying, how did the fig tree wither at once? Now, I stopped there and chuckled because I'm thinking, you guys saw him still the storm.

I mean, what do you mean, how did it happen at once? But that's their question. And Jesus never wastes an opportunity to talk about something much more important in 21. And Jesus answered them, truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you'll not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, be taken up and thrown into the sea, it'll happen. And whatever you ask in prayer, you'll receive if you have faith. So instantly a lesson on faith and the results of faith and lack of doubt. So this is instructive because why would faith be important in cursing the fig tree?

But his faith, that's what the question leads to because very often these verses that say, you know, if you ask anything in my name, it'll be done for you, get yanked and twisted all out of proportion and all out of relation to what Jesus actually said. So maybe it's important at this point to just think about the fig tree for just a minute. And it's significant. It's an important symbol.

Okay. What is it a symbol of? Well, we're looking at the fruitfulness of the nation of Israel and actually a sweet fruitfulness. This isn't just like barley or something. The fig tree was always considered like the candy of the fruit kingdom. It still is sweet like candy. It is.

It's just a wonderful thing. It's great in Fig Newtons. But I mean, many of us in America we don't eat figs, just straight up figs.

But boy, they are really sweet and lovely. So it's a picture of a lovely, sweet, productive fruit from a plant. But here is a tree that seems to be promising fruit outwardly because of its vegetation, because of its leaves, it's promising fruit.

Actively growing. Right. It's like talking fruit, but it's not making fruit. Right. And so that's the metaphor Jesus is talking about when he talks about coming to a nation of Israel that talks a lot about fruitfulness, but there is no fruit. There is nothing sweet.

And while the fig tree is not mentioned specifically, there's a verse in Revelation 3.1 where Jesus is talking to the church in Sardis. And he says, you have a name that you're alive, but you're dead. But you're dead. Right. So that's the same picture. Same idea.

All the outward indications that there's life going on, but there's nothing fruit bearing. Yes. It's almost a symbol of hypocrisy. Pretense. You promise. You talk. It looks like you're doing a good game. You look green.

Everything looks big and showy and it's perfect. But when you look at the heart of what's being produced, there's nothing sweet here. There's no fruit here. And then so Jesus curses it. Now it's interesting, in one of the other gospels, he makes the connection very strongly and says, as a result, God's going to take away his blessing from that tree and give it to another tree, which is an interesting thing. It's where Jesus starts to prefigure the whole inclusion of Gentiles in the promise. And it's based on fruitfulness.

It's based on fruitfulness. So, you know, if you've done your concordance search, one of the most interesting mentions of the fig tree happens in John 2, when the disciple, Nathaniel, is called and Jesus says to him, I saw you, before I called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you. And something about Jesus' mention of the fig tree triggers in Nathaniel this amazing response. He says, truly, you are the Son of God.

You are the King of Israel. Well, there's a lot of stuff going on there that we don't initially understand. But it's possible that Nathaniel understood that the fig tree was symbolic of the nation of Israel.

And he had been perhaps sitting under a fig tree thinking about that. And what is the state of the nation? We're expecting Messiah, where is he? And we'll look at the condition of our spiritual leaders.

And for Jesus to say, I saw you under the fig tree, meaning I saw you thinking about or pondering the spiritual state of the nation. The bigger picture. Yeah. And Nathaniel recognizes that this is a man who knows his thoughts. And so it's just very interesting to me that the fig tree has much more significance than we would think on the surface.

Yeah. And you won't really uncover that unless you do your study of fig trees in the Bible. I mean, it helps a lot. But it's also important to realize that Jesus wasn't just cursing the tree and saying, you die because you didn't give fruit. And the idea of a curse is not, you're going to die. But to make a statement of you are destined for a bad end. It's not so much a delivery of a curse as it is a statement of the direction that you're moving. Yeah, that you've already chosen to move.

Your fate is sealed essentially because of the steps you're taking. So if you're not making the connection, here it is literally, is that Jesus is coming to Jerusalem and what he's finding is a religious leadership and authority structure that has all the signs, has all the leads of being productive. But in the end, when he looks at the fruit of this religious group, there's no fruit there. It's just all pretense. It's all surface. It's all show.

It's all show. And so that's what he's saying here when he curses this tree. Another little piece of trivia before we move on.

Make it fast. Well we know he's going to and from Bethany and he was near Bethphage. Bethphage, Beth when you see Beth in the name, it always means bed, his house. You know what the phage means? Unripe figs. I was just going to guess that it was figs. It's unripe figs, yeah. So it's a fig growing area. Okay, so it makes sense that there would be a fig tree there. It makes sense you'd be there, yeah. So there you go.

There's your trivia for the day. Okay, we have to circle back and talk about faith because suddenly it just says, you know, I say to you, if you have faith and don't doubt, well very often then we think, well that means I just have to scramble up all my guts of faith and squeeze that faith juice out and God is bound to do what I want. He has to do it, yeah. You know, if we pause and think for a minute about what faith really is, there's a really good definition in Hebrews 11. Faith is a conviction of things not seen, right? The assurance of things we hoped for. Well, okay, those are great words and a lot of us have memorized them, but what does that really mean, the hope and the things we can't see? So a couple of years ago I worked really hard to generate a definition of faith that makes sense to me that's on those same ideas.

So let me just offer that to you here. Faith is a life-altering condition of mind and heart that is a settled confidence in the invisible reality of God's promises that is rooted in his character and faithfulness. Yes, yes. The settled condition of confidence because God is who he is and has promised something. So his character, who he is, is central. His foremost, that's right. And so faith always has an object, that object is God himself.

Right. And interestingly again in Mark's gospel in this same section, he starts Jesus' comment with, have faith in God. Have faith in God, not in faith in your faith. Not faith in your faith, yeah. And so many times we look at a passage like this and even the rest of the Mark passage and say, well, you know, I just got to screw up my faith. Right, squeeze out my faith juice. Get all the doubts out of the way and, you know, cross my fingers and close my eyes and I'll have faith and things will happen according to my command.

That's not it. This is faith in God. No, it has much more to do with being able to see the reality of the unseen God at work.

Yeah. And that's what Hebrews 11 kind of unpacks for us. So if I have faith being the pursuit of seeing what is authentically true, what God is doing in the unseen realm, then I will align my prayers with that.

Yes, yes, yeah. Which is why you can basically take to the bank when God says, I love you and I'll provide for you. No, seek first his kingdom and his righteousness and all those other things will be added. Right. You can just say, well, God said it. I believe it. There we go. And faith acts then based on a trust in God's promise and his character to fulfill his promise.

Right. So that's really all it's about. It's too bad faith gets twisted into some kind of new agey mind bending thing and it's not that at all. Well, it becomes dependent on how much we believe. It's all about us. All about us instead of being all about God.

Biblical faith is all about God. Yeah. Okay.

Shall we push on? Yeah. Yeah.

That's scratching the surface on faith, I'll tell you. But it's a good, but since Jesus introduced it here. He started this. Okay. That's right. Verse 23.

So when he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching and said, by what authority are you doing these things and who gave you this authority? Okay. That's probably a reference to what he had done the day before. Yeah. And shaking up their little business model.

Well, and also just doing those healings right smack dab in their face. So verse 24, Jesus answered them. I also will ask you one question. And if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things.

Here it is. The baptism of John. Where did it come from? From heaven or from man? And they discussed it amongst themselves. If we say from heaven, they'll say to us, why then did you not believe him?

But if we say from man, we're afraid of the crowd for they all hold that John was a prophet. So they answered Jesus, we do not know. And he said to them, neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.

That's a really interesting exchange. So these guys are used to being in charge, especially in the temple area. So they're asking, you know, who on our staff told you you could do this stuff? Who stamped your paper? Can you actually say like the high priest said I could do this?

You know, no. So who gave you the authority? So it's really, you know, you have to realize in their structure, authority is given, it's passed down from the top to the bottom. They're asking, so who can you say, give us a name that gave you the authority to do this. And of course, we know if Jesus was going to answer them straight up, he'd say, well, my heavenly father has. You know, I don't need.

This is my father's house. I don't need your chief priest to give me the authority. Which he said at 12, right?

That's right. But it's interesting because he could have just said that and shut down the conversation. He could have just done that. But again, artfully, Jesus decides to take these, what are really relatively trivial challenges that he could shut down quickly. And he turns it into a great and needed teaching opportunity during this Passion Week. And the needed thing he does is he refocuses back on John the Baptist, who was, he was the harbinger of the coming of the Messiah. So he's in a way, Jesus is turning the tape backwards three years and saying, so let's, you know, let's go back to John the Baptist, you know, because right now as you're seeing what I mean, you're asking me what my authority was. Well, who did John the Baptist say I was is what he's kind of bringing to mind right here. So he's saying John the Baptist knew who I was. He claimed who I was, was what he was saying about me. But he was saying, did that come from God or did that come from man? Was he telling the truth about what he was? So indirectly, he's challenging them to either side with what John the Baptist said about who Jesus was or not.

And it's really artful. So we get back to them getting back to this conflict, who is Jesus? Who did John the Baptist say I was? And John the Baptist had a very influential ministry three years ago, pointing people to Jesus. And also a huge part of John the Baptist ministry was the call to readiness through repentance.

Before he identified Jesus, he had been preaching for a while. Repent, the kingdom of God is coming. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, turn from where you have been and fix your attention on the king. Well, yeah, and here the kingdom comes when the king comes and the king just came into town.

So this is a really great way to circle around into issues that they have never quite settled. Did John the Baptist come from God? Did he actually say that this guy was the Messiah? Because I'm sure people heard John the Baptist say when Jesus came, behold the lame of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Well, the lame of God, that's the suffering Messiah. So I'm sure they heard that. Well, and we know that they went out to hear John.

Yeah, that's right. And that he called him, you brood of vipers. He takes him down. Who called you out here? Because he knows that they're not out there to repent. They're out there to just keep an eye on the doings.

Yeah. So artfully, Jesus brings them back to a conflict that started three years ago that they just have never really settled on and says, I'll tell you my authority. If you tell me where John the Baptist was telling the truth, was he telling the truth from heaven or was he making it up from man?

What was his authority? And it puts them in from their position a lose-lose position. We talk about win-win positions. This is a lose-lose. And in order for us to understand their lose-lose situation, Matthew actually lets us know what they're thinking.

Right, right. So, well, we can't say John the Baptist was from God because then why didn't we believe him? Well, he says, why didn't you believe?

Believe him about what? Believe him about who Jesus was. See, it's the identity of Jesus right back in. So we can't say that because if we say John the Baptist was from God, then we're forced to say that you're the Messiah because that's what John the Baptist was giving. But we can't say he wasn't from God.

And why? Well, because the crowds believe that he came from God. So now the people pleasing Pharisees can't say he was not from God or else the crowds will take him down. And they are the ones who should have the final word on identifying.

Yes, yes. And the people are just all prepared for him to be proclaimed King and Messiah. So it's just really artfully well done. It's really skillful. It exposes their fear and their hypocrisy.

It's skillful. And in the end, he says, if you're not going to tell me by what authority, I'm not going to tell you mine either. But it's an interesting thing as an aside as you wrap it up, is that if these guys are not willing, if they're not willing to admit that John the Baptist came from God, they're not going to be willing to admit Jesus came from God.

So they're on the same side of the page on this problem. So there we go. It kind of nails it.

It's very artful, very artful. So then Jesus tells this little story immediately following that, right? He's exposed them.

Very appropriate. And then he says, well, they're all standing around listening in verse 28. What do you think? A man had two sons and he went to the first and said, son, go and work in the vineyard today. And he answered, I will not. But afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, I go, sir.

Oh, good. But he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father? And they said, well, the first.

Sure. Jesus said to them, truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him. But the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.

Wow. So we're still talking about John the Baptist. And we're still talking about repentance and recognition of the king. And believing John the Baptist.

Why then did you not believe him? And here we go again. Yeah. Even when you saw the sinning people turning from their ways in the presence of the one calling them to repentance and readiness for the king.

Yes. And we're actually tying together a couple other points we've already made. Faith is you take an action on faith. And the one who wins here in the story is the one who takes an action based on what they believe, not just saying it. And we also have a little bit of the leaves of the fig tree, where the leaves are them saying, I'll go, pretense, and then not doing it. And so they're all kind of wrapped up in this one parable at the end here. Isn't that an amazing connection? Yeah, yeah.

It's integrated here. But I think the biggest insult to them, these highfalutin religious leaders in their big fancy clothes and all that kind of strutting around like big toots. And he says, you know what?

The tax collectors and the prostitutes will get into the kingdom before you guys. Whoa. In your face. And he says why. He explains why. He says, because of your reaction to John. John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him. But other people did. And guess who they were?

Tax collectors and prostitutes. And because they believed John the Baptist, believed him about who I was. Right.

They'll be in the kingdom before you guys. Wow. However, you could have changed your mind, he says, like in the story. Isn't that lovely? That's actually a lovely element in the story that the one son who initially has said, I'm not going. He changes his mind and goes. And that is not lost on the father. The father recognizes this one was initially resistant, but he repented. And they had three years to change their minds. And they didn't. In the active presence of the works of Jesus.

Yeah. Again, it's a masterful parable at exactly the right moment. Because Jesus is making a point that I'm sure they're quitting. Well, he explained it to them.

It's pivotal. You're not going to get in the kingdom based on your lack of belief. And we talk about the fact that you don't get in the kingdom of God based on works. It's all about belief in terms of who Jesus is. Will you believe who he is? Will you embrace who he is? Will you admit your sins, repent, claim his payment for your sin? I mean, are you willing to believe that Jesus is that Messiah? The suffering Messiah. Yeah, and you haven't used the word recognition, but that's really what it's called are you refuse to recognize the Messiah, give him his rightful place, and then recognize your own need for repentance. Yes, yes.

Those two things must go together. That's the deal. And he's saying to the Pharisees, you're not going down that road. You're not getting in the kingdom.

You're not going there. However, people who change their mind, I always wonder to whether he's sort of hinting about some of the religious leaders who did change their mind, maybe Nicodemus, maybe Joseph of Arimathea, highly placed guys who in the end, maybe Nicodemus changed his mind from that first discussion with Jesus and said, you know, I think he is the Messiah. Well, and Jesus had with him right in this instance, Matthew, who had been Levi the tax collector.

Right, a tax collector who changed his mind. So there's always a chance until the end, you know, even if your first resistance to Jesus is real, you can continue to consider. And even in this particular case, he says the one who says I will not go but then changes his mind, the action, the action, right, which proves the faith. James says you may have false faith, it doesn't result in action. So that's what's good.

So I see the reality of who Jesus is, and I will turn toward him and I engage toward myself. Yeah, exactly. Exactly. Oh, my goodness, our time's up. Well, next time we get to another parable. It's just a mind bender.

It's really a mind bender. Again, another very timely one. So you'll want to come back and be with us as we stay in Matthew, we hear about Jesus teaching during this great critical Passion Week where everyone's thinking about the kingdom and Jesus is too. So join us again next time on More Than Ink. There are many more episodes of this broadcast to be found at our website, And while you are there, take a moment to drop us a note.

Remember, the Bible is God's love letter to you. Pick it up and read it for yourself, and you will discover that the words printed there are indeed more than ink. I think we got it. I think we got it. This has been a production of Main Street Church of Brigham City.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-11-04 14:21:58 / 2023-11-04 14:33:43 / 12

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